Letters, February 2016

No dispute over transparency of pricing 

I was surprised to find my views placed in opposition to Art Dealers’ Association of America president Adam Sheffer’s in the recent article “The price is right?” (The Art Newspaper 2, January, p6).

The writer asked Sheffer to respond to the notion that auction-house pricing is more transparent than that of galleries, and stated that I had said this in a recent speech at the Talking Galleries conference [in November]. Sheffer responded, correctly, that this is false, creating the impression of discord between two colleagues. Yet later on, the article itself acknowledges that I do not believe that auction results are transparent, something on which Sheffer and I agree. There is no discord here.

The crux of the article hangs on the notion that galleries are hiding prices from potential collectors. That’s not an art world that either of us recognise. The galleries with whom we do business rarely refuse to share prices with collectors, and never for primary material. And they are quite willing and able to justify those prices when asked. What is not publicly shared by galleries is information on what sold to whom, and at what price. 

Meanwhile, auction sales are heavily publicised. Unfortunately, while auction house results are not entirely transparent, because they are public they too often determine how the market of an artist is perceived. It’s a detail, but sales and pricing are different things. In the speech I clearly point to sales transparency, not price transparency.

Should galleries more broadly publicise their sales in order to better define the markets of their artists? That remains an open question, one we are actively discussing with the hundreds of galleries that we serve.

Marc Spiegler, director, Art Basel

Melanie Gerlis, art market editor (Europe, Asia, Africa), The Art Newspaper, replies:

Adam Sheffer was asked to respond to the view that auction houses are more generally transparent than galleries, rather than specifically about prices, which were included as a subset of transparency in general. The additional data on pricing came from another source and was flagged as such. 

However, we accept that the opening sentence of this article placed too much emphasis on prices rather than transparency.

• Readers can watch the YouTube video of the full Talking Galleries presentation by Marc Spiegler at: